Find me at Worldcon

This week, I’m in London to enjoy the annual World Science Fiction Convention (and to pay a visit to a working model of Su Sung’s astronomical clock, which happens to belong to the Museum of Science, London, but I digress).

If you’ve never been, you should know that Worldcon is a fabulous gathering of geeks from all over. Primarily, we are literary geeks, but there will also be film, video, anime, masquerade, art show, and a bunch of other nifty things.

If, on the other hand, you are already planning to attend, I’d love to meet you at my Kaffeeklatsch on Friday, August 15th at 6 pm. You will need to sign up in advance as specified.

I will also be part of a panel entitled “Doctors in Space” on Saturday from 1:30 to 3 pm, where we’ll be talking about the role of medical professionals in fantasy and science fiction.

I’ll also be riding the Eye, paying a call to Diagon Alley, then heading to the coast for some fossil hunting. Hope to see some of you there!

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Frozen: World-building on Ice

I’m starting to see a series here on the blog about my thoughts on the world-building of various new films. Today’s subject is “Frozen,” a fun and surprisingly anti-Disney-trope Disney film. Not being real big on princesses, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this one, but it undermines a lot of the stuff that Disney Princess films are supposed to be all about, mainly that the love of a man and a woman is the only thing that makes the world go ’round.
ice palace
In this case, the characters’ problems, and their solutions, come from within. It’s not the fear of some faceless mob that threatens Elsa–it is her own fear of herself. Likewise, it’s not the sacrifice of some other person that saves Anna, it is her willingness to sacrifice herself.

Okay, E. C., you liked the movie, so why are we here? We’re here for Kristoff. Kristoff, the reindeer-loving local boy, gets kinda short shrift in this film. Yes, he’s helpful in getting to the mountain to find Elsa, and yes, he brings Anna to the right people to help her out, then hurries her all the way home to her (presumed) savior. It’s a noble and a beautiful thing–though he doesn’t even get to be the one who saves the day. But there’s one aspect of Kristoff that gets neglected. He’s an ice merchant.

We first meet him as a small child at the feet of a group of men who are harvesting ice from mountain ponds to deliver to those in warmer climes. (As an aside, I am still fascinated by the idea that the same thing was done here in New England, where ice was harvested from local ponds and shipped, packed in straw to insulate it, all the way to India so the British could have cold drinks. But that’s another blog for another day.) Kristoff grows up surrounded by snow and ice, learning about it from his culture and from his labor, gaining the knowledge to work with it safely.

When he arrives at Elsa’s ice palace, he’s clearly impressed. So are we, but for the non-ice-initiated, it’s basically just a pretty (and cold) piece of architecture. At this point, Kristoff even tells us, “I know ice.” But what, exactly, does he know about it? We already know that his livelihood is in the tank–he’s an ice merchant during an eternal winter–so the conflict in the film is personal. From a narrative perspective, that’s great. It raises the stakes and gives him a personal investment in the solution, and it gives the viewer a rooting interest in him. Woo-hoo.

Unfortunately, that’s the last we ever hear of Kristoff’s ice-knowledge. Given the advertising images of the film which clearly suggest a relationship between Kristoff (ice merchant!) and Elsa (ice maker!) I suspect that his attachment to ice is there mainly as a red herring to throw the viewer off about where the story is going, and who will turn out to be a hero in the end.

Perhaps they wanted to throw in that little twist, making us believe that Kristoff and Elsa were perfect for each other until we find out the truth, but I am still a bit disappointed that Kristoff’s skill with ice is never plot-relevant. They’re living, for a while, in a world dominated by ice, yet he never comes through with any special insight. A way to attack the ice and snow beast? A safe route across the broken ice flows? A glimpse into the ice of Anna’s heart that helps him know what to do? Given how tightly crafted the rest of the film is (check out the timing of Hans’ glove removal) I wish they had taken just a little more time to bring out Kristoff’s knowledge of this world. That would have been (sorry, can’t help it) totally cool.

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Guest Blog: The Love of a Dwarf

Today, I am hosting amazing Life Coach and fantasy author Sherry Peters, whose book, Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf is about to publish in a e-format near you (check out the links at the end to read more). I asked her to share her take on the Dwarf/Elf romance angle of the recent Hobbit films. . .

Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf proudly displays her courtship braids. . .

Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf proudly displays her courtship braids. . .

The Love of a Dwarf

When “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” hit theaters, many raved about Tauriel, the female elf warrior. Finally there was a female character who was a warrior. She’s strong, she goes after what she wants, she fights evil, and she’s true to herself.

Sadly, Tauriel couldn’t overcome the curse that is being a female elf. Which is to say, her stunning beauty meant everyone fell in love with her. We saw this in the Lord of the Rings when Gimli was mesmerized, infatuated even, with Galadriel. Arwen had the love of Aragorn, who, even when he thought Arwen had gone to the Grey Havens, couldn’t be swayed away from his love for her by the beauty and strength of Eowyn. Eowyn had all the strength and amazing character of Tauriel, so one would think she would be the obvious replacement for Arwen, but Eowyn wasn’t an elf. Had she been an elf, Aragorn would have at least had a difficult time deciding between the two.

While Galadriel and Arwen only had one guy hopelessly attracted to them (that we could see), Tauriel was doubly cursed: she had to contend with the love of both Legolas and Kili. In fairness, she did return Kili’s affection. And why wouldn’t she? Kili was the best looking of the party heading out to the Lonely Mountain. But what I want to know is why Kili is only interested in Tauriel? What about Legolas? He’s just as pretty, if not prettier, than Tauriel. As graceful, strong, and self-assured too. Or is he?

It seemed to me that Legolas was a little too eager to insult dwarves. He admited to Tauriel that Kili is taller than the others, but is “no less ugly.” He also called Gimli a horrid goblin mutant and suggested Gloin’s wife was a male. It wasn’t because he was confused by her beard, he was over-compensating, mesmerized by her, covering for the prolonged moment of looking, soaking in her attractiveness. His attraction to dwarves confused him and he didn’t know what to do with it so Legolas did what we all do when we’re too embarrassed to admit we like someone, we insult them. After all, it was only after he suggested Gloin’s was a male that his insults grew in offensiveness. Legolas joined Tauriel in fighting the orcs to save the dwarves because he wanted time to understand his attraction to them.

Here’s what I think: Legolas fell in love with Gloin’s wife. He had to hide it because as the son of the elven king, he could not love a dwarf. By the time of The Lord of the Rings, Legolas had years to grow into himself and understand his feelings for dwarves. Perhaps his father and his rank as elven prince had less control over him. Perhaps Legolas befriended Gimli because he wanted to use Gimli to get to his mother. It could have been that Gimli’s mother passed on so Legolas felt it was now safe to befriend her son. Regardless, Legolas now knew that dwarves were attractive and worthy of his love.

So where does this leave dwarf/elf relations? Are female elves going to have to relinquish their place as the inevitable love interest for all males, elf and dwarf alike? Somehow, I don’t think they’ll mind if they do. I’m sure most female elves, including Tauriel, want to be loved for their strength of character, not just their immortal beauty.

What about female dwarves? Will they now have a chance at being seen as attractive? Legolas took a brave first step in leading us all to the realization that while female elves are gorgeous and powerful, they aren’t the only ones who are loveable.

I, for one, look forward to the day when male elves and female dwarves are openly mesmerized and attracted to each other.

About Sherry Peters:

Sherry Peters attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop and holds an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. When she isn’t writing, she loves to have adventures of her own including spending a year working in Northern Ireland. Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf is her first novel. For more information on Sherry, visit her website at

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Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf on Amazon
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Automata of the Middle Ages

This topic is one of the interesting intersections between my medieval research and my current research into Chinese technology. Some of the earliest known automated figures are clock jacks–figures that come out and do something when a clock strikes a certain hour. On Su Sung’s astronomical clock (c. 1070 CE) ranks of figures perform various actions at different times, including playing music. Designs for similar figures exist in The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, produced c. 850 CE by a trio of Iranian brothers.

the bell-striking "Jacks" at Wells Cathedral clock dating to the late 14th century

the bell-striking “Jacks” at Wells Cathedral clock dating to the late 14th century

These figures move by a series of gearworks tied to the mechanism of the clock, which might be driven by weights or by water (Su Sung). The handy thing about a water-driven mechanism is that the water can be made to do many other things, like fill or empty from a chamber resulting in slower or more complex movements, like the playing of music which often consisted of either percussion (made by the dropping of objects or lowering of an arm) or flute music, made by using water pressure to force air out of a narrowed opening creating whistles of different tones.

In England, in the 15th century, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths organized a revel to honor the king which included a statue of a golden angel who turned and raised a trumpet. I have been trying to find my notes about this celebration without success–perhaps one of the scholars out there has the specifics? Automata of various sorts appear in the literature of the time, sometimes as mechanical arbiters of justice. Apparently, they begin to appear in the mid-12th century, suggesting that the European image of automata may have been influenced by real examples seen during the crusades as a result of the Islamic interest in such devices.

Automata had a darker role as well, however, one that suggests not their “ingenious” nature as created by man, but their unnatural aspect. The 13th century friar Roger Bacon, regarded nowadays as an early chemist and precursor to today’s scientists, is said to have possessed a brazen head that could speak prophecies–and which was presumed to be of demonic origin. He was imprisoned as a heretic, but eventually freed to die in obscurity and spawn much later speculation about the true nature of his talents.

For myself, I prophesy that I shall much more to say on this topic at a later date.

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The Fiction Reboot Presents: “Striking Research Gold” by D.B. Jackson

E. C. Ambrose:

Here’s fellow historical fiction author D. B. Jackson talking about his research, in this case, into a smallpox outbreak in Colonial Boston. Seemed like just the kind of thing I should pass along. Enjoy!

Originally posted on Fiction Reboot | Daily Dose:

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot and the Daily Dose! Today, we are pleased to present the work of D.B. Jackson/David Coe–the Thieftaker Chronicles. One of my favorite things about this series, aside from the brilliant characters, is Jackson’s use of history. I am a historian myself, and work at a medical museum–disease stalks our past like no other villain.DailyDose_Poster (Of course, disease isn’t the only villain in the Thieftaker’s Boston!) Let’s hear about striking “research gold”–Welcome D.B.!

PlunderofSouls_hi_comp150My newest novel, A Plunder of Souls, is the third installment in my Thieftaker Chronicles, a series of historical urban fantasies. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the writing of these books, all of them set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, has required extensive research. I have consulted historical monographs and biographies, old newspaper articles and a host of other sources, some of them utterly predictable, and others…

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King Edward and the Jews

One of the characters in my books who has been very well-received is Mordecai, a surgeon who begins as an antagonist and turns into Elisha’s mentor. But his presence in this world at all needs a little explanation. . .you see, the books are set in 1347, but Edward Longshanks expelled the Jews from England in 1290.

Edward I is known, even renowned, for his prowess as a warrior and war-leader, a proper king in the medieval tradition. Then, as now, war was an expensive proposition, especially if you wanted to wage it on several fronts, say, in Scotland as well as pressing your claims against France. Where to get that money? Taxes are nice, but not always sufficient, and there is the bother of collecting them. How about a loan instead? During the Middle Ages, Christians were not allowed, by Church law, to collect interest on loans to other Christians, so this dubious role fell upon the Jews. Frequently merchants and skilled craftsmen, the Jews thus also became bankers for a large number of Christians, and, in a roundabout way, Christian monarchs.

Clifford's Tower in York, site of a notorious massacre of Jews in 1190

Clifford’s Tower in York, site of a notorious massacre of Jews in 1190

William the Conqueror had established the feudal system of allegiances when he took over England, but the Jews were exempted, owing their allegiance directly to the crown. This was a relatively common arrangement and sometimes served to protect Jews from the anger of Christians because attacking them meant attacking the king. In Avignon, the popes served in a similar function, and sometimes used it to defend the Jews against the outlandish accusations that arose during difficult times, like the Great Mortality (the Black Death, as we know it). However, the Jews received interest from their Christian clients, and the king could selectively tax the Jews at a higher rate to seize that money for his own needs.

And here is the tragic heart of so much of that anger against the Jews. . .nobody likes the guy who holds the purse strings. Jews were decried for the very role that Church law pushed them into, that of usury. Among the many deep and deadly roots of antisemitism is simple economics. Medieval attitudes toward Jews still persist today–I’m not going to dignify them with enumeration.

In the case of King Edward I of England, his wars began to strain his finances. He wanted to raise taxes from his nobles, and essentially bargained away the Jews–expelling them from England, as he had during his earlier conquest of Gascony, and seizing their property–gaining wealth and gaining the favor of his subjects who resented the Jewish community.

While the Jews were not officially permitted to return to England until 1657, there is some evidence that they had begun filtering back. I imagine Mordecai to be one of these quiet, individual migrants. Under the burden of his own grief, Mordecai has ceased to be concerned about what happens to him–until Elisha’s example shows him another way to cope.

One of the reasons I wanted to write these books was the number of times, in my historical research, that I read of witches, Jews and homosexuals being treated together with heretics, and subjected to any number of injustices as a result. I wanted to look at the layers of prejudice built up in the society at the time–and perhaps to consider how those prejudices remain, even today. I am disturbed by the apparent rise in anti-Semitic crime and commentary–and by the fact that its roots lie in weary rumor and in doctrines laid out centuries before. Some parts of history are meant to be relegated to the scrap heap of time.

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Elisha Magus Book Day! With footnotes. . .

Hello, all,
it’s the day I’ve been anticipating for at least a year–the release day for Elisha Magus, book 2 in my Dark Apostle series.

Cover of Elisha Magus, by amazing artist, Cliff Nielsen

Cover of Elisha Magus, by amazing artist, Cliff Nielsen

In the past year, some of my blog entries have been of the sort I consider footnotes to the text–they talk about historical details or choices related to the book itself. For those of you who’d like to follow along, here are some of those links, so that you can insert these tidbits as you enjoy the text, or return here afterward to learn more about some of the settings in Elisha Magus. As you know, research is a large part of the fun for me–I can’t use everything I learn, but I’m often informed by it as I write.

A brief history of barrows

The two death markers of William Rufus

Medieval wall-painting

Researching what blooms in an English medieval garden

The Traitor’s Gate (file this under “sirs not appearing in this book”)


Myself, I will be sharing the book with my local audience at the Farmer’s Market here in town (dressed in my barber-surgeon outfit, complete with tools and bloody handprints–should be fun!).

You can also find me celebrating the book at the Toadstool Bookshop in Milford, NH on July 10 from 6 to 8 pm

and sharing the stage with the amazing Carol Berg at the Old Firehouse Bookshop in Fort Collins, CO on July 25th at 7 pm.

Posted in books, Elisha Barber, Elisha Magus, fantasy, medieval, The Dark Apostle | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment